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United Way BE A HERO campaign, under way

Costumed superhero characters walk in the Marion County Fair parade Saturday bringing attention to the United Way’s 2020-21 BE A HERO campaign.

There are fears that one impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a silent increase of child abuse.

Shandi Joubert-Kanz, supervisor at The Child Center in Hannibal, is putting out an urgent call for people who suspect a child is being abused to say something.

The Child Center is a United Way partner agency that works to help children who are victims of abuse and neglect heal from the trauma. The organization will benefit from United Way’s 2020-21 BE A HERO campaign. 

Joubert-Kanz reported the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant drop in child abuse reports, primarily because families have been forced to stay home, children have not been able to participate in normal activities.

“The hotline numbers have gone down drastically, we were at more than a 50 percent drop over the last few months, and we know abuse is still happening, but fewer people are reporting,” Joubert-Kanz said.

Families, she said, have experienced new levels of stress, faced uncertainty and been locked down together. Although many families have used the lockdown to get close, some children are trapped in an environment where they are not safe.

Hotline calls are typically made by a teacher, counselor or coach at school after a child comes to them for help, or they learn about things the child is experiencing. 

In normal times, staff from The Child Center go into schools to teach children the importance of body safety for themselves and others, and how to deal with tough topics like sexting and bullying.

“We teach kids that it’s not okay for anyone to look at or touch the private parts of their body and what to do if someone breaks their body safety rule,” Joubert-Kanz said. 

Often after their teaching programs, children feel more comfortable telling their teachers, coaches, or other safe individuals that they are being abused, and The Child Center can assist. 

However, school programs have been on hold since March because of COVID-19 closings and the cancellation of activities. Jourbert-Kanz says children have been unable to connect to their teachers, counselors, coaches, principals, and other safe people if they need help.

That is why Joubert-Kanz encourages people step up and be a hero if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected by calling the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-3738. 

Callers can remain anonymous. Investigators need some basis information – name of the child, age, address or school, and a reason for the call. 

When a report of child abuse is made, and it is deemed an investigation is needed, The Child Center steps in and uses resources including a trained forensic interviewer and team support from law enforcement, children’s division, the juvenile office, the prosecuting attorney’s office and others.

Investigators can determine whether children needs to be placed in foster care, assist families by connecting to community resources, or even if criminal charges should be filed.

“Our goal is that those kids who experience maltreatment, or they witness something, or experience that type of trauma, they at least have a safe space with safe people that they can talk about things with,” says Joubert-Kanz. “Our advocate can spend anywhere from 8 to 20 hours with one family and the United Way gives us the opportunity to be able to do that, without that funding we would still provide the service because our people are dedicated but it would go under funded so it’s really important and were very thankful for that.” 

The Child Center is one of the organizations that will benefit from the 2020-21 United Way BE A HERO Campaign. 

The campaign will work to raise $425,000 in the community – those dollars will be invested in local organizations to ensure they have the resources they need to continue their great work. 

The Child Center will receive $19,500 from the campaign. Get your cape ready to join us and BE A HERO!

The United Way of the Mark Twain Area works towards the mission, “to increase the capacity of people to care for one another.” This is done by creating opportunities for individuals to give of their time, talents, and treasures to local organizations that work to empower all individuals to achieve their potential through education, financial stability, and healthy lives.